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OUYA – A New Gaming Console for the People

If you follow the gaming world at all, there are a few words you’re likely as tired of as we are, and a big one is “Kickstarter.” Every day some new game is popping up on the funding service, or someone’s starting a project that someone else doesn’t like.

Then Ouya hit.

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As far as I know, there weren’t even rumors floating around before this week. Now the thing’s sporting a Kickstarter that’s already reached more than 200% funding.

The biggest concern that pops up when a console from an unknown or inexperienced company is, will this thing materialize? Over the years we’ve seen vaporware consoles like the Indrema and Phantom make waves without ever hitting shelves. Not to mention systems like the 3DO and Philips CD-i that disappeared as quickly as they appeared.

There’s good news for Ouya, though, that gives it potentially a much better chance at success than its spiritual predecessors.

First is, of course, Kickstarter. Fans are involved with the console from the beginning. The mod community could be very lively. When I spoke to Ouya CEO Julie Uhrman over the phone, she stressed the open nature of the system. Rooting Ouya will not void the warranty and slipping a new chip in won’t brick the console for any legal reason.

ouya-controller-croppedSecond is the list of names behind the hardware. Yves Béhar, the designer behind Jawbone’s products and the One Laptop per Child initiative, is responsible for the console and controller design. Xbox pioneer Ed Fries’ name has been invoked in relation to the system as well in Kotaku’s piece, though his role is less clear.

Those factors—fan involvement and experienced names—go a long way toward making the effort seem feasible and legitimate when past consoles with similar ideas have failed. According to the Kickstarter page, Ouya is shooting for a March 2013 release date.

With the question of whether or not Ouya will actually release largely out of the way, we come to some other concerns.

When talking about the mobile gaming space as Uhrman does, comparisons between the iOS and Android gaming markets are inevitable. Apple’s cultural cachet has made them an appealing destination for developers, along with a closed ecosystem that discourages piracy. Further, in the Android marketplace, paid apps don’t typically do well and developers feel piracy is hurting their chances at a profit.

While Uhrman isn’t ready to name names, she has some good names talking up the system on the Kickstarter page, including Jenova Chen of thatgamecompany and Minecraft developer Mojang. Uhrman stresses, though, that they understand the importance of having “a great set of content ready” for the system. Encouraging revenue sharing for developers and open opportunities to publish more traditional games on the otherwise touch-focused platform are both potential positives for the system as well.

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On the topic of piracy, Ouya’s free-to-play focus should help combat that. Uhrman explains “some aspect has to be free – whether it’s a demo, level, or some amount of playtime.” After that, it’s up to the developer to decide how they want to make money with their games.

“They can do microtransactions, subscriptions, or demo to buy,” she explains. Developers have a variety of options for making money on the system, and certainly more than are currently available on iOS.

Free-to-play games don’t tend to suffer from piracy as there isn’t usually much to gain from pirating, and that could work in the system’s favor despite the intended openness of the console.

While Ouya has a number of hurdles to overcome, it seems like Uhrman and company have answers for them. Until we start to see some games, it’ll be hard to tell if this is the next big thing or just a bright flash.


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Eric Frederiksen

Eric Frederiksen has been a gamer since someone made the mistake of letting him play their Nintendo many years ago, pushing him to beg for his own,...Eric Frederiksen has been a gamer since someone made the mistake of letting him play their Nintendo many years ago, pushing him to beg for his own,...


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